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Music and memory – How songs can improve your wellbeing

Written by Brooke Garriety, Activity Centre Operations Manager with integratedliving

Music helps to improve memory and wellbeing, as well as providing social interaction by connecting seniors living with dementia through the power of song.

When you hear a certain song on the radio, does it make your eyes light up? Put a smile on your face? Do find yourself remembering an old sweetheart, or a time or place in your childhood that was special to you?

We have often heard the old adage ‘music is food for the soul’, but the power of music to unlock our memories can sometimes be surprising.

Just hearing Elvis Presley’s “Blue Suede Shoes” may cast your mind back to the days when he was rock ‘n’ rolling on stage to crowds of screaming fans and you might even remember where you were or what you were doing in your own life at the time.

Music and memory go hand in hand. Throughout your lifetime, you sub-consciously associate certain songs, artists, or genres of music with major milestones and events that you’ve experienced.

It’s as if we have created a soundtrack of our life – with each song taking us back to a point in time.

There are many benefits of music for people living with dementia, as these memories are often unlocked, allowing them to access past memories and experiences through songs.

Music has the ability to trigger strong emotions and can even provide a powerful tool for expressing yourself. It’s not surprising that music therapy is used for older people and can help with:

  • Mental stimulation
  • Creativity
  • Social connection
  • Reducing stress, anxiety, depression and agitation.

Just as a song can make you shed a tear, it can also lift your spirits, providing a positive trigger to feeling more energised, encouraging a better mood and even getting our bodies moving.

Listening to music works wonders, but you can even extend the experience to having a sing-along with other people, dancing if you’re able, or using some percussion instruments to tap along to the beat.

One of integratedliving’s client Case Managers, Stanley Shultz, recalled an experience with a client who was living with dementia and sometimes had a mental block with remembering how to use his walker.

“He loved The Beatles, so we played “Yellow Submarine” and we would both be singing along and while he focused on the music, the movement just happened. He wasn’t worrying and his brain wasn’t getting stuck on the aspects of walking. It didn’t work every single time, but it often did. We had lots of fun – and that was the main thing,” he said.

Activity Centre Coordinator Taleiha Hobson-Rozyn organises sing-alongs with seniors who attend the centre for a break from home.

Not only do they enjoy social interaction with other people from their local community, but the centre’s music classes help to connect them through a joyful realisation that they have something in common.

“Singing songs from yesteryear brings smiles to their faces and provides them with a way to express themselves. Even the ones who are less communicative are able to hear the music and feel like they are part of the experience,” she said.

Taleiha said music can be used to energise and excite older people to make them feel happier and more physically active, as well as helping to make them feel calmer and more relaxed.

Softer, slower music can be used to help:

  • Relax muscles
  • Improve breathing
  • Reduce heart rate and
  • Lower blood pressure.

“Music has many benefits in lifting mood and helping seniors remember experiences and people. The power of music can’t be underestimated in bringing people together and making life more joyful,” she said.

Learn more about our Activity Centres